Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Hunger

By Paul Rahmat SVD

Poverty and hunger are enormous challenges for humanity in our time. As of 2015, 1.3 billion people have experienced multidimensional poverty, and 736 million live in extreme poverty. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation, putting more than 150 million people in new poverty.

Addressing the issue, the NGO Committee for Social Development (CSocD) hosted an online webinar on July 7th, 2021. It highlighted the theme: “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Hunger: Our Asks.” The parallel event that VIVAT International co-sponsored was organized to align with the United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2021 (HLPF). The online webinar aimed to observe the 2021 HLPF priority theme on sustainable development and recovery from the pandemic in conjunction with the 2022 CSocD theme focusing on the issues of poverty and hunger.

Sharing Grassroots Experiences

The webinar provided a space for sharing grassroots experiences and a policy dialogue in combating poverty and hunger on a global scale. Three grassroots speakers from Ecuador, Kenya, and the Philippines shared their stories and good practices in eradicating poverty and hunger.  Recommended by VIVAT International, Fr. Benigno Beltran SVD, President and CEO Sandiawaan Center of Learning, was invited to speak at the international seminar.

Fr. Ben Beltran was a champion of Millennium Development Goals in 2010 from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the Philippines. In his presentation, he took a holistic approach to tackle three aspects of the sustainable development goals: the environment, education, and the economy.

To address these three areas, he proposed an ambitious but visible project to plant 1 billion bamboos by 2030. Reforestation of bamboos is a smart choice to mitigate climate crises. Bamboo is adequate to absorb 35% more carbon dioxide (CO2) than ordinary trees. A hectare of bamboo annually absorbs 12 tons of CO2. Bamboo also helps prevent erosion and floods due to the devastating impacts of climate change. One hectare of a clump of bamboo absorbs 30,000 liters of water annually.

The bamboo industry also creates jobs. Ben Beltran and his team connect 1 million organic farmers with poor urban communities through the e-commerce platform of Agro. His organization provides an online learning opportunity to 10 million school dropouts through job and digital literacy skills and entrepreneurial training. The diversity of impacts from these initiatives can address the issues of poverty and hunger holistically and sustainably.

The other two speakers highlighted their local initiatives to combat poverty and hunger through the Organic Farming and Vertical Kitchen Garden projects. Nelly Mariana Soto Guanolusia from Ecuador integrates her work for Street Children. Her organization “Fundación Proyecto Salesiano” trains and supports the mothers of children from the street in organic agriculture. The community operates as a cooperative farm. Selling their produce in the local markets gives them a good return for their effort, and this has helped them come out of poverty and hunger. Empowerment of women and integrating the rehabilitation of children into the project are other important elements of the initiative.

Wavinya Nzioka, an SDG Champion from the rural Makueni County in Kenya, shared her “Vertical Kitchen Garden” project to combat hunger and malnutrition. She has set a target of reaching out to 15,000 households with this innovative method of cultivation. She asked the government of Kenya to enhance the budgetary allocation for agriculture, mainstream her efforts, and scale up the project. She also recommended making it easier for women, particularly those with disabilities, to access loans for their livelihood projects.

Policy Dialogue

The second part of the webinar was ‘our asks’ – a dialogue on global policy between the grassroots speakers and the UN agencies. To this end, Nelly asked for financial aid to expand the program and reach as many families as possible, along with technical assistance in agriculture and programming.

Likewise, Wavinya called on the Kenyan government to increase budget allocation for agriculture so that the project could be scaled up to have a more significant impact. This was in conjunction with acknowledging the importance of supporting innovative agricultural policies to make them more accessible. Finally, Ben Beltran asked to recognize the critical role technology plays in making sure innovative approaches reach people through e-commerce platforms and apps to manage and assist in farming. He proposed making education and skill training more accessible.

Two speakers from the UN agencies – FAO and UNDP, were present to address these requests. They particularly underscored a robust policy framework, collaboration, and the importance of data availability and technology supporting policies. Gunter Hemrich, a senior advisor for FAO, emphasized the importance of partnership and cooperation from a global perspective. He also stressed having a better policy framework to support innovation. While Augustine Bahemuka, a Technical Specialist UNDP, suggested having robust policy frameworks that help the most vulnerable communities in the frontline in a holistic approach. In addition, he raised questions on data availability informing policy and the accessibility of technology use in supporting innovative actions to cope with poverty and hunger.